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Amusement parks are not trying to purposely hurt or kill you

It seems like every week this summer, the news has stories of horrific injuries or deaths at an amusement park. With that, comes the predictable “I knew that ride wasn’t safe. They should have never opened it,” chatter online.

But, as hard to believe as it is: Amusement parks are not trying to hurt or kill you.

Around the turn of the century, things were different. Rides were a new concept and safety systems were, well – non-existent. In fact, a ride with a “killer” reputation was actually MORE popular, as people were willing to test their mettle against the machine.

The Revere Beach Lightning was one of Harry Traver's "Terrifying Triplets" and it earned that moniker by killing a rider on the first day of operation. Today a ride like this would never make it past the drawing board.

The Revere Beach Lightning was one of Harry Traver’s “Terrifying Triplets” and it earned that moniker by killing a rider on the first day of operation.

But as the industry matured, so also did it’s guests – and the demand went from a killer coaster to a safer one. Manufacturers responded with the lap bar, seat belt and over the shoulder restraint.

It’s no longer in the best interest of a park to have a ride that’s not safe – and that’s been the case since the 1920’s. Coasters and flat rides can be millions of dollars of investment – and one accident could turn that investment into a fancy lawn ornament. 

Yeah, there’s always the exceptions to the rule, but thankfully in this industry – they tend to be easy to spot. If a ride doesn’t “look” right – it probably isn’t. And if you don’t like the way it looks, you don’t have to ride.

So, with this rash of incidents across the country – could better oversight lead to safer rides? I’m not sure. Currently, the states regulate amusement rides, to varying degrees depending on location. Could a uniform standard be better? Maybe. But uniform rules have their drawbacks, too.

It’s hard to create a “one size fits all” methodology for the entire United States. If we can’t agree on anything in Washington, it would be tough to push through legislation that would work fairly for everyone.

I repeat this stat often, because it’s worth repeating: You have better odds of being injured driving to an amusement park than you do while inside. You may hear about a deadly crash on the freeway, only mentioned as a “Sig Alert” in a traffic update. A death on a coaster, however will cause the news choppers to be summoned to the scene.

So go to your local amusement or theme park with confidence – just follow the safety rules. A park doesn’t want to hurt or kill you, despite what the internet says. Because if they did – you wouldn’t be able to go back and spend more money there…

California’s Great America announces The Patriot for 2017

With no fanfare or any buildup, California’s Great America announced a long-standing rumor that it will convert it’s Vortex roller coaster into a floorless model, dubbed The Patriot.

Now, I’m all for improving the ride experience for any coaster – and certainly Vortex fits the bill for that. But considering that a longer, faster, taller (and better) floorless coaster is an hour’s drive north from Santa Clara – why would they try to market the world’s shortest floorless coaster in the same media market? (An ultra-competitive media market at that).

The Patriot at CGA 1

The Patriot will convert Vortex into a floorless coaster, with new trains and paint. Graphic courtesy of California’s Great America.

The press release sent out by the park also erroneously claimed that Vortex is the oldest stand-up coaster in the United States (“Apocalypse,” formerly “Iron Wolf” is the oldest at Six Flags America). It also said the ride’s name was inspired by the “All American Corners” section of the park – even though the ride shares no entrance or exit to the area (It’s officially located in Hometown Square).

Vortex Oldest

Not quite, California’s Great America…

RCDB

Don’t get me wrong – this is still a good move by the park. But it’s no slam dunk. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has the upper edge on this ride type with Medusa, so Great America must come with a really good angle to get their message heard.

Looking at the park’s social media feeds, members of the general public aren’t really sold on the idea:

Confusion

Park fans on CGA’s Facebook feed are a bit confused on the Vortex / Patriot conversion and sadly the park isn’t answering their questions…

For me, the park would have been better off converting the ride into a sit down coaster, such as Kumba, Wildfire or the Incredible Hulk. At least then it would have been unique to the area. But, it’s still a major improvement to a ride that desperately needed it.

Let’s hope the station is also improved, with actual shade and you know – a roof.

The Patriot 2

The Patriot will be one of the shortest floorless coasters when it opens in 2017. Graphic courtesy of California’s Great America.

But the one thing I can’t shake from all this is HOW it was announced. At least when Cedar Point converted Mantis into Rougarou – there was a fun teaser campaign (Squash the bug). You felt like you were a part of the park.

But the way The Patriot was announced this morning came off like a doctor giving you a bad prognosis: “This is coming. You’ve got two weeks. Buy a season pass.”

There’s no emotional connection to an announcement this big when it’s done via press release only. Honestly, I don’t feel compelled to buy a season pass at all. The two errors in the release certainly don’t help, either:

CGA Patriot Release Error

What lies “beneath their fee”? Isn’t that your admission? 😉

Overall though, the general public will welcome this change if it’s marketed well – and my hope is that it will be successful. But it will also be increasingly difficult to get the right message across – an emotional one – if the park does not connect better with the fans in the future.

What do you think of The Patriot? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

Social Media Strategies and Best Practices for Amusement Parks

Social media use has exploded over the past decade. Its presence is so big, many companies are hiring people solely based on their experience with these new, direct marketing channels.

But while a “like” can be earned quickly, those bonds can also be lost just as fast if the user has a poor experience with it.

So, if you follow these simple tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a superior social media experience for your guests, which will lead to more of those turnstiles rotating:

STEP ONE: KEEP IT UPDATED!

I can’t tell you the number of parks that leave their social media without updated content for weeks, even months on end. Common errors here can include outdated cover photos, profile photos and information. While one of the easiest to fix, this is also one of the most common mistakes many parks and FEC’s make on social media.

RMC Before and After Comparison

Keeping your content fresh on the landing page will encourage visitors to return to see what’s new and stay engaged with your company or property.

 

STEP TWO: STOP POSTING CRAP UPDATES!

Treating social media like a direct billboard or commercial to the fans of your park is instant poison for your social media. Consider a park with 400,000 fans, yet only receives 100 likes on average on their posts. Something’s wrong there – and it’s the content.

Mask the ad for your park or event in great content – make a cool video or post a beautiful photo that’s sure to be shared. Direct calls to action will turn off park visitors faster than an hour long wait in an un-shaded queue.

And don’t forget about video – it’s the best way to tell a story – and one of the most underutilized mediums on social media.

CGA Capture

Video is good – but when you can see the cell phone being used to capture said video in a reflection – that’s not good enough anymore for social audiences.

STEP THREE: INTERACT WITH YOUR FANS!

It should go without saying, but many parks neglect the “social” part of social media – that is, they post something to their account – and simply leave it there. That’s akin in the digital age of throwing crap on a wall and seeing if it sticks.

Social media allows guests to experience things they may have missed on their last trip, post about how much fun they had – or in some cases – complain about a negative experience they had while at your facility.

Not responding or interacting with guests on social media is no longer an acceptable practice. It never was acceptable, period. One can easily gain back a potential repeat customer simply by interacting with them, acknowledging their concerns or eventually resolving them.

Dollywood No Show

Dollywood was notably absent from social media; not answering questions of people who were led to believe their latest ride was going to open on time. It was not well received.

Yes, it IS a lot of work and yes, it CAN be frustrating at times with a never-ending deluge of comments – but that’s the world we live in. Consider it “job security.”

Plus, when a park or facility responds to a guest, they guest feels important – because they ARE! Remember who pays for the bills, folks…

By answering questions on social media, you’re also contributing to a higher engagement rating on many of the mathematical algorithms which dictate who sees what. Translation: responding on social media means more people see your post FOR FREE.

So, if you follow these simple steps, your amusement park or family entertainment center should see a nice bump in social media metrics – which should lead to more butts through those gates.

Got any other good suggestions? Leave a comment below or post on our social media channels. Don’t worry, we’ll actually interact with you!

Cedar Point announces Mean Streak wooden roller coaster to close in September

Never has a wooden roller coaster closure announcement been more gleefully celebrated by the ride enthusiast community…

On Monday, Cedar Point announced that they would be “giving the axe” to their once record-breaking wooden roller coaster, Mean Streak. There was no blowback; no online petitions; no hashtag activists. Quite simply, people were ready to let Mean Streak go. But why? Aren’t we supposed to celebrate and try to preserve the wooden coaster in America? After all, we invented them back in 1884 at Coney Island.

Photo credit: Cedar Point

Photo credit: Cedar Point

Mean Streak was part of a trio of massive wooden roller coasters built in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. They were designed and built by Charles Dinn of Ohio and each (Hercules at Dorney Park, The Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and Mean Streak at Cedar Point) were record breakers.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

They were also neck breakers. While the rides were massively popular their first year, the parks they sat in simply could not allocate enough man-hours or maintenance time to keep them running as smooth as when they opened. They quickly fell out of favor with not only ride enthusiasts, but also the general public due to their rough rides.

Of the 11 wooden coasters that Dinn designed and built – four have been demolished, one has been renovated into a steel coaster and now we await the eventual fate of Mean Streak.

The other massive woodies of the era (not built by Dinn) did not fare well, either. The Rattler at Fiesta Texas was renovated into a steel coaster in 2013 while Son of Beast at Kings Island was eventually torn down.

New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry.

The Texas Giant (one of Dinn’s designs) was converted into a steel coaster by Rocky Mountain Construction in 2011.

The closure of Mean Streak is a bookend to a unique era in the amusement industry, where we discovered there is an upper limit to what wooden coasters can do, bigger was not always better and sacrificing ride quality for records does not make for a good, long-term investment. Let us hope that we never see an era like it again.

Kings Island Unveils Mystic Timbers and Teases with #WhatsInTheShed

There are four things every public relations person at an amusement /theme park should do in preparation for a big ride announcement:

1.) Think to yourself, “What would Jeffrey Siebert at Six Flags Fiesta Texas do?”

2.) Release computer animated point of view video (POV)

3.) Tease a unique, mystery element in the ride

4.) Have ride merchandise hidden and ready to be purchased, just moments after the official announcement is made.

Kings Island 2017 Teaser What's In The Shed

Kings Island in Ohio hit all of those on Thursday evening, even with major online streaming issues, when they officially announced Mystic Timbers – their record-setting 5th wooden coaster.

Not only did the park release the official animated POV (which has already been stolen and monetized by multiple “coaster media outlets” – the park also teases at something else…

You see, the POV wasn’t complete – there’s a little section at the end that they purposely omitted – only to show yet another hashtag: #WhatsInTheShed.

The coaster community online LOST IT’S DAMN MIND – and loved every bit of it:

Capture 1 Capture 2 Capture 3

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you keep the coaster enthusiasts satisfied, curious and talking up a ride that isn’t even built for another 10 months on this project. We’ll all find out what’s in that shed come the 2017 season.

But for now, this is truly one of the best times of the year for park fans!

Are YOU excited for the 2017 season? What’s your most anticipated coaster or park announcement?

Log flumes are worth keeping around

Over the past several years, many parks around the world have decided to remove their flume rides.

But I’m here today to come to the defense of the lowly log flume, even though they rarely defend me from their chlorinated waters.

Much like the roller coaster, the log flume has become an integral part of any amusement or theme park. Invented by Karl Bacon and Ed Morgan of Arrow Development in the 1963, the flume came about after hearing of stories of loggers riding trunks as they traversed the narrow, fast troughs of water.

Arrow Development Log Flume Prototype

Photo credit: Nancy Bacon-Francks. Used with permission.

But with the rise of water parks, many companies are making the choice to eliminate the flume – because of on-going maintenance and operating costs.

Here’s why they should reconsider:

Flumes are still very popular; this is an hour-long wait for Logger's Run at California's Great America.

Flumes are still very popular; this is an hour-long wait for Logger’s Run at California’s Great America.

  • Flumes are multi-purpose:

Any good amusement park should have three different types of water rides: A spillwater, white water rapid and a flume. Two of the three are just about guaranteed to get you soaked.

But a flume is different.

Don’t want to be soaked but want to cool down? Then you go on the flume.

It’s also a great ride EVERYONE can enjoy in the family. From the kids to grandma and grandpa, you can share the experience of a log ride. You can’t do that with a water park.

 

  • Flumes aren’t water parks:

Unlike a water park, you don’t need to change clothes to go to and from a log flume. There’s no need for a locker and they have wonderful capacity compared to a waterslide.

Guests get more bang for their buck, too – as flumes tend to be one of the longest length attractions in most parks.

Logger's Revenge at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

  • Flumes are heritage:

They were invented here, in America. In fact, they were invented less than 10 miles from where I currently type. The first one was so popular at Six Flags Over Texas, they built a second one to handle the crowds.

They suck in tons of people on hot days and provide some of the best photo opportunities for any park photographer.

There is no better place to snap a funny photo than the log flume...

There is no better place to snap a funny photo than the log flume…

Most importantly, they are part of the fabric that keeps parks together. Removing a flume is like removing a coaster these day – and every one that has been removed has been sorely missed.

Simply put, the flume deserves to be preserved – and revered.

***

What do you think – are the days of the log flume numbered? Tell me in the comments section or on my social media links!

Taste of Orleans Festival at California’s Great America Serves Up Food, Spirits and Nostalgia

 

Great-America-Taste-of-Orle

Rarely do I find myself speechless after coming home from a park. After hundreds of different parks, it’s difficult to impress me.

However, I am proud to report that after taking in the first day of “Taste of Orleans” at California’s Great America, this is one of those moments. Not only were all my expectations met, they were exceeded.

Let’s begin with a quick background: “Taste of Orleans” is a first-of-it’s-kind for Great America – a food and wine festival, themed with Cajun dishes and flavor. But, it is much more than that. In my eyes, it is the re-birth of both Orleans Place and of theme inside the park.

I’ll get into that a bit later – let’s head back to the food for now…

After picking up your tasting card for $25, you can visit six different food stations, which feature different, Cajun-inspired dishes. They are: Creole Meatballs, Bourbon House BBQ Chicken Wings, Crawfish Etoufee, Chicken-Andouille Gumbo, Red Beans and Ride and two Beignets for dessert:

IMG_0937  IMG_0940

Portion sizes were quite liberal compared to other tasting events I’ve attended – and I found that I was quite satisfied after sampling everything (sans the beignets – I saved those for dessert later on in the day). All the food was fresh and full of flavor – definitely not your typical amusement park fare.

But where this event really took off for me was after sunset.

In what must be a “dry run” for their upcoming “Winterfest” in November and December, the park has placed quite a bit of LED lights throughout the area, similar to International Street at Kings Dominion. The effect is stunning – and the area once dark and dreary at night is now colorful and welcoming:

IMG_9947

The lighting has turned Orleans Place into it’s namesake – and we couldn’t be happier!

Consider just a few years ago, park employees had to fight to get the lettering of “ORLEANS PLACE” back on the brick entrance to the area. Now, it’s full-on Mardi Gras. Did I mention the stilt-walkers handing out beads to everyone; the live bands playing zydeco music or the theme-appropriate employee uniforms? It doesn’t just evoke New Orleans – it SCREAMS it.

Then for the highlight of the night – a Cajun-themed fireworks show. I must have spotted three or four fire marshals in the park, with extinguishers at their side – that’s when you KNOW it’s going to be one hell of a show.

And was it ever.

While difficult to capture perfectly, these two shots say it all – California’s Great America went FULL-ON DISNEY with their first attempt at what they call, “Immersive Fireworks.”

Sign me up. Permanently:

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Note the fireworks in FRONT of Flight Deck…

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Fireworks line the Rue in Orleans Place and surround the audience a la a Disney show.

Now, one of the benefits I can see of events like this: All the decor and lighting CAN STAY UP throughout the season. Move it earlier in the season (say to a traditionally non-busy day) and you’ve themed the area for the rest of the season.

In essence, “Taste of Orleans” has un-done decades of de-theming at this park and brought back the magic and majesty of the Marriott-era…and I do not say that lightly.

The “Paramount Blue” benches in the area are being swapped out for more traditional black iron, brown wood models. The “Girl Space” store was changed to the new location of the Great America Outlet and both it and the “Trending Now” shop sport more authentic, theme-appropriate signage.

Photo credit: Kris Rowberry

Street performers dance in front of the newly re-themed “Trending Now” store.

Zydeco and jazz permeated the area on new speakers – a much-needed upgrade from the ground box models (that sounded worse than a subway announcement) found elsewhere in the park. And when that music wasn’t playing, live performers were – either a local group of high schoolers, marching through the Rue and eventually making their way to the top of the Consulate balcony, where they drew quite the crowd.

Anyone who says people go to parks for just the coasters does not understand the industry. Guests go to be ENTERTAINED. And was I and thousands of others ENTERTAINED at this event? Oh hell yeah:

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A live marching band continued their show atop the Consulate’s balcony, much to the delight of the crowd below.

When you see people openly dancing in the streets to the music being played – you have hit that perfect nerve inside them that only theme parks can do: make a guest forget they’re in Santa Clara, CA – and transport them to a completely different place.

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The stilt walking ladies were already popular; when they started giving away beads they were MOBBED!

After seeing just how spectacular this event was, I was surprised to not see any promotion about the event on any media that I saw or heard (TV or radio). The Bay Area has quite a “foodie” culture – and I can easily see hundreds, if not thousands of “foodiphiles” showing up to see what all the hub bub was about – so long as they knew about it. Maybe I just missed the spots…

My only real gripes from the event itself were minor: a lack of water cups at the food booths, lack of dedicated seating areas to sit and relax and no dedicated line for beignets at Sweet Tooth. But that’s about it.

Knott’s has the Boysenberry Festival. Carowinds has a Taste of Carolina. And now, NorCal’s Cedar Fair park finally has a marquee foodie event to call it’s own.

If events such as “Taste of Orleans” is (pardon the pun) a taste of the future of this park, then the future smells pretty good from where I stand. Do yourself a favor and plan to visit California’s Great America on July 24th, 30th or 31st and experience the earnest revival of a legendary theme park.

 

“TASTE OF ORLEANS” FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL TIPS:

Don’t wait in line for a food or wine card in Pizza Orleans or Sweet Treats – the tasting cards are available at the smaller merchandise booths as well.

Watch out for chalk art along the Rue – you might be stepping on a Picasso and not realize it!

Best spot for fireworks viewing is along the Rue in Orleans Place.

Instagram Coaster Accounts Are Not Real Media

I’m going to say something here that’s bound to tick off some of my readers – but it warrants being told:

IF YOU RUN A ROLLER COASTER OR AMUSEMENT PARK INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT…

YOU ARE NOT ACTUAL MEDIA.

There, I said it.

The same goes with just having a social media presence, whether it’s just a Twitter account or Tumblr that’s focused on parks or rides. None of that qualifies you to be invited to nor demand to be invited to a park media event.

This just about sums up most of Instagram...

This just about sums up most of Instagram…

Why? Well I’ll tell ya…

Credentialed media (such as myself) are invited to events because we earn it. We write proper news stories, we create content that’s more than just a photo and a caption. We provide insight for people who may be fans of the industry or the general public who might do a Google search.

Demanding that you’re invited to media events based solely on the fact that run an Instagram account dedicated to rides is laughable.

You have to have impact – you have to actually DO something besides snap photos with your phone and upload them.

Media events at parks – by their very nature – are supposed to be fun. But, that does not mean they are there for you and your “hundreds” of followers to HAVE fun.

Make sense?

Coaster Expert Kris Rowberry gets his thrill on

Getting my thrill on with the lap bar only “Superman: Ultimate Flight” at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

People like myself are there to work; to cover a story. When you shove your way to the front of the press line, or bolt in front of others to get on the ride – that’s counterproductive to our whole industry of covering parks. And it’s why more and more parks are second-guessing bringing in “online, coaster media” in the first place.

When the enthusiasm over a new ride or attraction blinds you – that’s not good. I’m not saying what you do is dumb or pointless – I just want you to realize there are more steps to be taken to get up the ladder.

This problem is so prevalent, that at one media event I attended this year, a member of the Instagram Mafia DEMANDED that they receive the park provided ride POV first from their PR Manager.

Really?

Think about that. It’s not about covering the park anymore, is it? It’s about…YOU…being first. That’s the wrong attitude to have.

Simply put, if you don’t create meaningful content or respect the parks you cover (and the people who cover them) then I hope you enjoy the latest attractions when they open to the general public – because that’s when you should be riding them, first.

***

Am I way off base? (It’s happened before). Let me know in the comments section below or on my social media links!

Several Rocky Mountain Construction Coasters Closed Due to Recall

Shockwaves are being felt throughout the coaster and park enthusiast community today as several Rocky Mountain Construction coasters around the world have been closed “until further notice” due to an apparently defective train cylinder.

Kolmården Park issued a very detailed statement late Saturday, saying a cylinder on the rides’ train is to blame for the delayed opening. 

On a banner on their homepage, Dollywood posted: “Lightning Rod is closed today. The ride manufacturer ordered all of its roller coasters closed until further notice as a recalled mechanical part is replaced.” 

However, several RMC coasters are still operating as of this evening.

The Joker at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has been experiencing quite a bit of downtime since officially opening late last month, although an exact cause for it has not been announced. It, along with Twisted Colossus are currently open as of Saturday afternoon.

Storm Chaser at Kentucky Kingdom was operating as of noon Saturday afternoon. Its current status is unknown. Wicked Cyclone has been closed at Six Flags New England as of Saturday afternoon.

Hayden, ID-based Rocky Mountain Construction has yet to issue any statement on the recall or what was the impetus for removing their rides from service so suddenly and abruptly. Sadly, this has led to rampant speculation and rumors online.

Stay tuned to Great American Thrills for the latest on this developing story…

Cell phone on roller coaster injures guest and cause rides to go down more often

This past week, a guest at Six Flags Great Adventure sued the New Jersey park, because a loose cell phone smashed into them on the “El Toro” wooden roller coaster – giving the riders “substantial injuries.” Here’s the link.

Earlier this month, trains on California Screamin’ at Disney California Adventure were e-stopped when a guest whipped out a cell phone selfie stick (apparently to film themselves) all while the ride was in motion. As a result, guests had to be evacuated and the ride was down for over an hour.

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It doesn’t help when companies encourage this sort of reckless behavior, either…GoPro did pull this post down after massive backlash.

Three days later, a ride attendant at Carowinds was assaulted when they refused to allow a guest to retrieve their dropped cell phone from the show building of a dark ride. The operator was shoved to the ground as the guest proceeded to walk along the track to retrieve their precious cell phone. The ride was immediately e-stopped and security arrived shortly thereafter.

Nearly a year to the day that Disney Parks officially banned selfie sticks and phones on rides, guests are still not getting the message – leave the phone in the station or in your secured pocket – and parks have not heeded the call to make it more clear that filming on a ride isn’t safe, or tolerated.

Our partner site, Thrills By The Bay had two guests whip out their cell phone on Twisted Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain – and when they told the operators, “…they practically shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘Well if they lose their phone it’s on them.'”

Actually, it won’t be on them – it’ll be on the face of an innocent rider, who never saw it coming.

Cell Phone carnage at Six Flags St. Louis. Photo (c) 2013 Great American Thrills and Kris Rowberry

Cell phones litter the infield of Mr. Freeze at Six Flags St. Louis

Loose articles have always been a problem on rides. Anyone remember when Jaguar! at Knott’s got stuck because of a guests’ jacket somehow got loose and jammed a wheel assembly? But the proliferation of phones on rides adds to the increased danger, coupled with the dense nature of the devices.

Enthusiasts have been trying to warn parks and ride operators for years now about this – but no one seems to want to listen. Sadly, it may take more suits like the one against Six Flags Great Adventure before the industry steps up and tackles this problem properly.